Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Guidelines for Failed Septic Systems

Vermont homeowners and businesses served by onsite wastewater disposal systems who observe wastewater on the surface of the ground must take action.  Improperly treated wastewater poses a risk to humans through direct exposure or by entering and contaminating water supplies. Many wastewater systems will properly function once the water recedes, while other systems will require repair or replacement.  The Wastewater Management Division has five regional offices to provide assistance and to answer questions related to wastewater systems, water supplies and the permitting process.  Schools should contact the Vermont Department of Health for further assistance.

If you believe there is wastewater above ground take the following action:

  1. Contact your local health officer.  Your town office can provide you with the appropriate name and phone number.
  2. Wastewater systems that continue to experience surfacing of effluent after the water recedes should be fenced off to prevent humans or animals from entering the polluted area.
  3. Confine the surfacing wastewater to the immediate area of the surfacing and prevent the wastewater from flowing onto neighboring properties, towards a drinking water supply or into surface waters.
  4. Do not immediately pump the wastewater from the septic tank until it is known that the water table has dropped to an acceptable depth.  An elevated groundwater table may cause an empty tank to collapse or shift in the ground.
  5. Hydrated lime (also known as calcium hydroxide) maybe applied to help disinfect the area.  Lime is caustic so you must follow the instructions, wear rubber boots, gloves, goggles, and other protective clothing, and, ensure the area is fenced to eliminate any human or animal exposure to the lime during the disinfection period.
  6. Contact your ANR regional office at one of the following numbers: Regional office staff will assist you through the process of replacing the failed wastewater system and will provide information on how to obtain a permit if one is needed.
  7. A licensed designer will need to design the wastewater system if the failed system needs reconstruction or replacing.  Licensed designers who are professional engineers may be found in the phone book or on the VT Secretary of State website at: Exiting ANR web site
    Licensed designers who are not professional engineers are sorted by county at
  8. A guidance document about the general process for determining whether a wastewater system requires reconstruction or replacement may be found at:

Water supplies that were subject to flooding or inundation should be tested for contamination.  It is recommended that the water supplies be tested according to the guidelines established by the Vermont Department of Health.   Visit the following web sites for more information and recommendations for after a flood: Exiting ANR web site

People may also visit the following web site for more information and assistance following Hurricane Irene: Exiting ANR web site

Financial assistance, for those who qualify, may be found at:
NeighborWorks Vermont Home Loan Fund Brochure Exiting ANR web site

More information about flood clean up and mitigation may be found on the ANR website at

September 2011

ANR home page ANR Calendar Finding Information on the ANR site ANR Publications Contact Information for ANR Summary & links to ANR Permit Information ANR Central Office Dept. of Environmental Conservation Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Dept. of Forests, Parks & Recreation Other Departments & Agencies You & the Environment Maps & Mapping at ANR Links of interest to Students and Teachers Vermont State web site